Friday, November 16, 2007

Many Americans who want a more youthful look are choosing laser treatments or injections along with their facials or manicure. There's a booming industry of medical spas and a growing concern about safety.

It's estimated that the medical spa industry in this country has grown from just one spa in 1999 to more than 2,000. They offer cosmetic procedures that are quite powerful. Some doctors say too many unqualified and unsupervised technicians are now performing these techniques. And the number of botched treatments is climbing.

"When I saw smoke come off my chest that really to me said something is wrong," said Stephen Perez.

"It looked like something was eating away at my skin," said Gigi Hinton,

Hinton and Perez don't know each other, but they have something in common. Both say they are victims of medical spa treatments gone horribly wrong.

"The pain was unbelievable," said Perez.

After having laser hair removal, Stephen says the technician who claimed to be a nurse offered to try to lighten a birth mark on his chest Within seconds, his flesh was burning. Now he's left with a white scar

Gigi underwent an unapproved procedure on her legs called mesotherapy to melt fat and smooth cellulite. She says it left her knees lumpy and scarred.

"You know it's a frightening time because& the public feels some medical treatments are really the same as getting a facial or getting your eyebrows waxed," said Julius Few, plastic surgeon, Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

And that's where the debate begins. Medical and spa professionals are at odds over who can safely perform which cosmetic procedures. Many dermatologists and plastic surgeons say too many unqualified people are now doing these techniques with inadequate supervision in unsafe settings. The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery says its members are seeing a big increase in unhappy customers of medi-spas coming to them for repairs. Horror stories include laser burns, unsuccessful tattoo removal, bad Botox, even botched micro-dermabrasion .

Dermatologist Carolyn Jacob says she's seeing more and more complications.

"There isn't a hard and fast law that the physician has to be on site during the procedure it just has to be directed by a physician and I think that is where we are running into trouble," she said.

Who can do Botox or laser hair removal? Regulations vary from state to state. For instance, in New Jersey only a licensed physician can operate a laser. Here in Illinois, current regulations are much looser.

According to a spokeswoman with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, laser, Botox, chemical peels and some microdermabrasion can be performed by someone who's not a physician if an M.D. or D.O. delegates authority. As for doctor supervision, LDFPR says in Illinois the physician must be on site. That means they must be in the building but do not have to be present during the treatment. That may come as a surprise to some spa owners.

"I think this needs to be taken more seriously by patients and the people who are giving these treatments to the patients," said Jacob.

And just because an MD is on board doesn't mean that doctor has acceptable training.

Jody Buckle the owner of Timeless Day Spa in Naperville says she's been approached by eye doctors, even foot doctors who want to do laser or Botox treatments at her spa. That's legal, but Jody says she won't use them because they're under qualified.

"My cut would have been pretty nice but I didn't trust who was doing it. I mean there were little flags going off," she said.

Jessica Fanning is an esthetician, which means she's a state-certified skin specialist who does laser techniques at Thrive Integrative Medical Spa, 3000 N. Halsted St. She believes her training makes her more qualified than some doctors or nurses.

"You want to make sure definitely someone has experience using it because if you go too far you can cause damage to the skin or not enough you don't get a good result," she said.

The International Medical Spa Association says the reality is most medical spas are safe. But Gigi and Stephen both wish they had spent more time researching who would actually be working on their bodies.

So how do you know? You have to ask questions including, exactly who will administer the treatment and what is their training level. How many have they performed? Also, if you have darker skin know that certain lasers could be dangerous. . Also, we're told the state is looking at changing regulations for medi-spas and that those changes are in the near future.

Carolyn Jacob, MD
Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology
20 W. Kinzie
Suite 1130

Thrive Integrative Medical Spa
3000 N. Halsted St.
Suite 823
Chicago, Il.

Julius Few, MD
Plastic Surgeon
Northwestern Plastic Surgery
675 North St. Clair
Suite 19-250
Chicago, Il

Timeless Spa
Local 888-721-4890

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